[Column] Frustration and wishful thinking

Bob van Vliet has had enough. He misses the personal contact with his students and wonders if digital alternatives for everything will be possible.

(Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

I’ve had enough. I miss my students. And during more and more video meetings about online alternatives, I wonder whether what we’re doing actually makes much sense.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m trying! In fact, I really enjoyed tinkering and trying things out. I’ve made feedback videos, replaced physical presentations with online peer review, and produced a series of interactive instructions. The first turned out to not only be more personal, but also took less time than what I normally do. The second had me surprised by the efforts and critical attitude of my students. And the third, embarrassingly, worked much better than the lectures that I would normally have given.

I waited anxiously for what students would turn in. Normally I see the work develop and I have an idea about the quality. Not this time. But after the deadline passed, I almost cheered at my laptop. It was impressive how hard and seriously the students had worked. The level of their work was higher than in previous years.

Still, all this left me – alone in that makeshift studio in my study – with a strange, empty feeling.

‘Normally, at the end of a practical, I’m practically bouncing through the room with enthusiasm’

Normally I see which students are truly enthusiastic about their project, and which students diligently do the assignment simply because that’s the way to get a good grade. Now I can’t see that. Normally, while walking around the room, I see which students are on the verge of understanding something, and I can make the penny drop with a well-placed remark. Now, I can’t. Normally, at the end of a practical, I’m practically bouncing through the room with enthusiasm. Now I’m mostly just tired.

Apart from being a teacher, I’m also the coordinator of a Master’s track. There are now meetings about how we can do our introduction programme online at the beginning of September. With all the information about rules and electives, it will be fine of course. But really getting to know each other, making people enthusiastic, and fostering a feeling of belonging will be a shadow of the real thing.

I am tempted to just say, never mind, let’s postpone it all. It’s simply not possible right now. Just try to start, for better or worse, on all those online courses which we pretend are full-fledged alternatives for what you actually came here for. We’ll see each other once we don’t need a video connection to connect us anymore. After all, what the heck are we doing? How bad will it be to put some things on hold? Why does there have to be a digital alternative for everything? Why do we think that’s even possible?

Maybe we don’t have much choice. But it requires a form of wishful thinking that I can’t always muster. Let’s watch out that we’re not too optimistic about how well everything can be reproduced at a distance. And whether it really is always worth all that extra effort.

Or maybe I’m just tired. I’ve had enough. I want my students back.

Bob van Vliet is a teacher at the Faculty of  3mE. Before, he was a teacher at Industrial Design Engineering and Architecture and the Built Environment.

Bob van Vliet / Columnist

Columnist Bob van Vliet

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